An important new ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals highlights when employees can, and cannot, offer arguments in federal employment cases even after administrative bodies have already ruled against that same argument. In this recent case, the court allowed an employee to pursue a Family and Medical Leave Act retaliation case because, even though a state unemployment compensation appeals hearing officer had previously ruled that the employer fired the employee based upon dishonesty, rather than her use of FMLA leave, the hearing officer didn’t rely on competent evidence in making that conclusion. While this case originated in Alabama, the 11th Circuit’s ruling in the matter can affect employers and employees in Georgia.
In any employment case in which an alleged statutory violation has taken place, it is always important to know exactly what the law requires an employee to show in order to make her case. Tennessee employers and employees should take note of a recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the employer. In this case, the employee lost because she did not have the required proof of damages to support her Family and Medical Leave Act case.
A recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case addressed the unusual question of whether an employer can go from exempt to non-exempt based upon the employer’s decision to withhold pay as part of an employment dispute. In the 11th Circuit ruling, it decided that, in this case, the employee remained exempt and could not pursue his employer for minimum wage law violations. The employee’s case was a matter for the state courts under a breach of contract cause of action, rather than a matter for a federal court under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
A recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case is helpful in instructing how far an employer must go in stating why it chose to terminate an employee on Family and Medical Leave Act leave. Even though the employer in the recent case only narrowed its reasons down to two mutually exclusive ones, its good-faith investigation established a reasonable basis for concluding that the employee committed one of the two misdeeds, and, since either was enough to warrant termination, the employer’s action did not violate the law.
The events that happened to Kimberly Thomas that triggered this case were, in some ways, not uncommon. Thomas, a manager at a Dollar General store in Alabama, was terminated in the wake of a robbery at her store. The robbery had yielded an investigation by Thomas’ superiors and questions regarding two store employees’ completion of a mandatory online class regarding robbery prevention. The employer concluded that Thomas either took the course exam for the employees or made the employees take the test “off the clock.” Either way, the employer reasoned that Thomas had violated company policy and ended her employment.
An Alabama employee recently lost her Family Medical Leave Act case because the period for which she sought leave was after the last day of her temporary employment. The case, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in it, provides some helpful guidance to Georgia employers and employees when it comes to temporary employees and the FMLA. In ruling in favor of the employer, the court explained that employers can terminate temporary employees, thereby preventing them from taking FMLA leave, as long as the termination would have occurred just the same even in the absence of the employee’s leave request.
The employee in this case, Janet Scotnicki, was a nurse in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. Scotnicki had a condition called Autoimmune Cerebellar Ataxia. Symptoms of her condition include problems with balance and walking. In 2007, the nurse took a month of FMLA leave to seek medical treatment. When she and her supervisor discussed her return to work, her supervisor proposed two possible opportunities that were more sedentary than her CCU job. Scotnicki chose a job with the Interventional Cardiology office, even though the supervisor clearly indicated that this job was only temporary.
A county road commission worker was able to deflect his employer’s attempt to defeat his Family and Medical Leave Act case by arguing that the employee was ineligible. Although the employee was, in fact, ineligible, the employer’s poorly worded employee manual appeared to promise FMLA coverage to the employee. That was enough for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide the employee was allowed to go forward to trial with the argument that the employer should be legally barred from arguing about eligibility as a result of the misrepresentation and the employee’s reliance upon it.
The worker who sued was Terry Tilley, an employee of the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. In late July 2011, Tilley’s supervisor reprimanded him for failing to complete certain assignments on time. The supervisor imposed a new set of deadlines by which Tilley must have his work finished or else face additional punishment, including job termination. On the morning of the last day for completing one of the assignments, Tilley suffered a medical event that led to his admission to a hospital, from which he was not released until the next day.
Pregnant women in the workplace face many challenges. Sometimes, those challenges can include things like being forced to take unpaid leave when their pregnancies restrict them on the job. One gas station worker, whom her employer forced onto leave after she became limited at work, lost her Family and Medical Leave Act and pregnancy discrimination suit. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that concluded that, although the employer’s policy might appear harsh, the employee had no proof the employer did anything that comprised a violation of the law.
The employee, Lauri Huffman, was a shift leader at a Speedway LLC gas station when she became pregnant. The job sometimes required her to work long shifts and perform strenuous physical tasks. Four months into her pregnancy, the woman’s OB/GYN told the patient to stop working shifts longer than eight hours and to take 15-minute breaks every four hours. Huffman conveyed the information to her employer, and Speedway accommodated her restrictions.
Winning a claim for illegal retaliation against an employee’s request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act requires several types of proof. One essential ingredient is evidence showing that the employee’s request for leave was (in whole or in part) the cause for his termination. A welding technician’s case fell short because the people he told about his leave request were not among the people who made the decision to terminate his employment, leading the trial court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide that his case lacked this vital proof of a link of causation.
Ed Rudy had worked as a ceramic welding technician for Walter Coke, Inc., a manufacturer of coke used in blast furnaces and foundries, since 2000. In 2009, he missed several months of work due to a back injury. In the summer of 2010, he hurt his back again while moving a 55-pound bag of silica powder. Rudy sought medical attention and was scheduled for a diagnostic imaging procedure in late September. After undergoing the procedure, Rudy told his immediate supervisor that the results were poor and that he would need back surgery.
In a noteworthy decision from this past June, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a judgment in favor of an employer in an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuit. The appeals court decision clarified that, when it came to establishing whether or not the employee had a serious medical condition as required by the law, all of the evidence should be considered, regardless of when the employee provided that information to the employer. The fact that the employer had already terminated the employee when she handed over certain doctors’ forms was irrelevant to deciding whether those forms proved the employee had the required serious medical condition entitling her to FMLA leave.
The employee in the case, Regina White, worked for Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., a food industry service provider. In 2010, White hurt her knee, but the injury was not so serious that she could not continue working. Near the end of the year, White’s health caused her to begin missing work, but that absence was unrelated to her knee injury. During that five-week absence, she reinjured her knee.
A nursing home employee, who was pursuing her employer for multiple forms of discrimination and retaliation, lost in her effort to revive her disability discrimination claim on appeal. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an employer’s mere knowledge that an employee had visited a doctor and that the doctor had advised the patient she could not return to work “until further notice” was not enough to prove that the employer knew the employee had a disability.
The employee, Portia Surtain, worked at Hamlin Place of Boynton Beach, a nursing home in South Florida. During her employment, Surtain submitted a request for medical leave. The employer, aware that Surtain had visited a doctor for “unknown health reasons” and that the doctor had advised her to stay away from work until further notice, terminated the employee.